NATIONAL

Pawar rules out tie-up with BSP

AURANGABAD, AUG. 21. The Nationalist Congress Party president, Sharad Pawar, today ruled out the possibility of any electoral understanding with the Bahujan Samaj Party for the coming Maharashtra Assembly elections.

At a press conference here, Mr. Pawar, who is also the Union Agriculture Minister, said the BSP's policy in Uttar Pradesh where it is at its strongest, was not conducive to the principles of secularism and "so the question of going along with them does not arise." Another reason, he said, was that the NCP's traditional ally, Republican Party of India (Athavale), did not desire a tie-up with the BSP. The NCP chief is here for the party's extended working committee meeting and the State unit's open session.

Mr. Pawar was responding to questions about the possibility of the Congress-NCP-RPI alliance coming to an understanding with the BSP and the Samajwadi Party to avoid the splitting of the anti-Shiv Sena-BJP alliance vote, especially, in view of the BSP's increased strength in Maharashtra in general and the Vidarbha region in particular.

Mr. Pawar said the media that were giving importance to the BSP and that in reality that party's strength had not gone up. The BSP had fielded the Congress rebels in many constituencies and the bigger chunk of votes that the party had claimed was actually of the Congress origin that the rebels could attract.

About the SP, the NCP leader was evasive and vague, saying he did not know much about its policy.

The two-day NCP meet here is a culmination of various zonal meetings and camps being held in preparation for the October Assembly elections.

Vidarbha issue

On the issue of Statehood for Vidarbha, Mr. Pawar said the NCP would go by the popular sentiment. If the people of the region wanted separation, the party would respect their view.

Turning to the question of reservation in jobs and education for Muslims, he said the party would take it up only after the court verdict. Reservation in the private sector needed a constitutional amendment and the ruling United Progressive Alliance did not have enough strength to see it through. It required a consensus, he said.